Women and the Glass Ceiling

IQ - Bell-Curve - Intelligence Debate

I shall illustrate the phenomonon of the glass ceiling effect on intelligent women resulting in unintended consequences, taken from a sermon where the preacher made a sincere attempt to promote a woman as an example of a CEO. It wasn't his fault it backfired. The sermon was on finances. The theme was to give until it hurts. Oh, the content of the sermon is not critical to my presentation, so I shall merely give an anecdote:

    "So I tell him," said Rabbinowitz, "I say, Herman, with all your business and such a success and with what you have in the bank, and I know how much it is because I'm your accountant, you still throw money around like a man with no arms." ... "Be a tzaddik, I say. Give a little. Besides, someone in your tax bracket, you could use the deductions. Give a little, Herman, I say, give till it hurts. So what does he do? He clutches his chest and says, 'It hurts, it hurts.'"
    "That Hopfenschmidt, he's always been a chazzer," said Morris, nodding. "He still has the first dollar he ever stole."
    "I say, Herman, that's not funny. Not funny. So how much can I put you down for? Ten thousand? Frankle, he gave ten thousand last year and you earn twice as much as Frankle. And Herman says, 'It hurts, it still hurts.' I say, five then at least. Even Hersch with his one dry cleaning store, he's giving five thousand and you earn ten times as much as Hersch. Think of all the children you'll be helping, Jewish children, who can't afford even a chicken neck on Shabbos. What does Herman say? 'It hurts, it hurts.' I say, all right, one thousand, but that's the minimum I'll accept and he says, 'But you don't understand, Yitzhak, it hurts, it really hurts.' Next thing I know he falls off his chair. Splat, right on the ground. He was right, it did hurt. He was having a coronary."
    "For real?" said Morris.
    "Of course. Would I joke about such a thing? He's at Einstein as we speak. As we speak."
    "Some chazzers, they'll do anything to keep from giving."
    ... "So as soon as we're finished here, I'm going over to give Herman a visit up at the hospital. Coming so close to his Maker, maybe it will have softened him up. I tell you, Morris, it was a miracle, really. I think now I can get from him the ten."
--William Lashner, Veritas271

intelligent reading I didn't watch the 2004 superbowl--in fact, I don't even watch TV--but I saw in the paper a picture of a contrite looking Janet Jackson who apologized for a "wardrobe malfunction" when she lost a bit too much clothing at the halftime show. I figured I'd give her the benefit of the doubt; she was embarrassed, so I wasn't going to dwell on it. I don't think the Good Book really want us to dwell on the bad but on the good. She apologized, and so I let it go at that, though to be sure, since I hadn't watched the show, she didn't have to apologize to me.

Then the radio kept playing it up all week, and evidently there was a web site and other places where one could actually see a picture of a bare boob she apologized for. And unlike a fleeting glimpse in the background of the actual event, this pic was a blown up display. But I kept my focus and I kept my mind pure all week. I can truthfully say I had a pure mind during the whole week's onslaught.

Then came next Sunday's sermon when the preacher illustrated a CEO demonstrating "her company's glory" by "showing off her figure and displaying her assets." At least that's what I thought I heard, although, it turns out, those weren't the exact words of the preacher. There went my pure mind.

This, I believe, is an unintended consequence of trying to find a substitute in a feminine pronoun for the conventional masculine applied to either sex unknown.

SEXISM. B. The Pronoun Problem272
    ... commonly used by American academics: as anybody can see for herself. ... But the method carries two risks. First, unintended connotations may invade the writing. In the 1980s, a novel was published in two versions, one using generic masculine pronouns and the other using generic feminine pronouns; the effects on readers of the two versions were reported to have been startlingly different in ways far too complex for discussion here. Second, this makeshift is likely to do a disservice to women in the long run, for it would probably be adopted only by a small minority of writers: the rest would continue with the generic masculine pronoun.

The first problem in the preacher using generic feminine pronouns in his sermons is "unintended connotations." A congregation is sometimes weak in the flesh. Sometimes when they hurt, it's not because they are giving that they hurt, but they really hurt. And when we are told of a CEO showing off her figures and displaying her assets, we might really picture her in all her glory.

The second problem is that it might not really help women in the long run. I assume that perhaps the preacher was trying to give women a leg up who are prevented by a "glass ceiling" from rising to top executive positions in statistically significant numbers. But that is, perhaps, to misunderstand the problem.

John Allen Paulos, A Mathematician Reads The Newspaper273
Company Charged with Ethnic Bias in Hiring
[IQ] Test Disparities Need Not Imply Racism
The Comedian Mort Sahl remarks that some newspapers might report a nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia with the headline WORLD ENDS: WOMEN AND MINORITIES HARDEST HIT. Sarcasm and hyperbole aside, victimization and the differential treatment of groups, whether intentional or not, are the basis for many a news story. The percentage of African-American students at elite colleges, the proportion of women in managerial positions, the ratio of Hispanic representatives in legislatures have all been written about extensively. Oddly enough, the shape of normal bell-shaped statistical curves sometimes has unexpected consequences for such situations. For example, even a slight divergence between the averages of different population groups is accentuated at the extreme ends of these curves, and these extremes often receive inordinate attention in the press. There are other inferences that have been drawn from this fact, some involving social policy issues such as affirmative action and jobs programs. The issue is a charged one, and I don't wish to endorse any dubious claims, but merely to clarify some mathematical points.
    As an illustration, assume that two populations vary along some dimension--height for example. Although it is not essential to the argument, make the further assumption that the two groups' heights vary in a normal or bell-shaped manner (see diagram). Then even if the average height of one group is only slightly greater than the average height of the other, people from the taller group will constitute a large majority among the very tall (the right tail of the curve). Likewise, people from the shorter group will constitute a large majority among the very short (the left tail of the curve). This is true even though the bulk of the people from both groups are of roughly average stature. Thus if group A has a mean height of 5' 8" and group B a mean height of 5' 7", then (depending on the exact variability of the heights) perhaps 90 percent or more of those of 6' 2" will be from group A. In general, any differences between the two groups will always be greatly accentuated at the extremes.
Two Normal Bell Curves

Two overlapping normal distribution curves

Small differences in the mean lead to large differences at the extremes.

These simple ideas can be used and misused by people of very different political persuasions. My concerns, as I've said, are only with some mathematical aspects of a very complicated story, let me again illustrate with a somewhat idealized case. Many people submit their job applications to a large corporation. Some of these people are Mexican and some are Korean, and the corporation uses a single test to determine which jobs to offer to whom. For whatever reasons (good, bad, justifiable or not), let's assume that although the scores of both groups are normally distributed with similar variability, those of the Mexican applicants are slightly lower on average than those of the Korean applicants.
    The corporation's personnel officer notes the relatively small differences between the group's means and observes with satisfaction that the many mid-level positions are occupied by both Mexicans and Koreans. She is puzzled, however, by the preponderance of Koreans assigned to the relatively few top jobs, those requiring an exceedingly high score in the qualifying test. The personnel officer does further research and discovers that most of the holders of the comparably few bottom jobs, assigned to applicants because of their very low scores on the qualifying test, are Mexican. She may suspect racism, but the result might just as well be an unforeseen consequence of the way the normal distribution works. Paradoxically, if she lowers the threshold for entrance to mid-level jobs, she will actually end up increasing the percentage of Mexicans in the bottom category.
    The fact is that groups differ in history, interests, and cultural values and along a whole host of other dimensions (which are impossible to disentangle). These differences constitute the group's identity and are what makes it possible even to talk about a collection of people as a group. Confronted with these social and historical dissimilarities, then, we shouldn't be astonished that member's scores on some standardized test are also likely to differ in mean and, much more substantially, at the extremes of the test-score distribution. (Much of this discussion is valid even if the distribution is not the normal bell-shaped one.) Such statistical disparities are not necessarily evidence of racism or ethnic prejudice, although, without a doubt, they sometimes are. One can and should debate whether the tests in question are appropriate for the purpose at hand, but one shouldn't be surprised when normal curves behave normally. As long as I'm issuing pronouncements, let me make another: the basic unit upon which our society or, indeed, any liberal society ("indeed" is a sure sign of something pompous coming up) is founded is the individual, not the group; I think it should stay that way.

God made women the "weaker vessel" on some bell curves. I don't know why that is. Maybe the minister could tell me. But being generally weaker means--in a universe governed by laws of probability, and in a competitive jungle of executive labor--that women would ordinarily not achieve the top slots in significant numbers. They have intelligence as mothers, though, and, say, a good figure and belle curves naturally attractive to a mate for childbearing.

Now, Hezekiah showed off his treasures to the ambassadors from Babylon, which was a mistake. That happened during the fifteen year life extension he prayed for and got. During that time he also had his son Manasses the wickedest king of the lot. Seems that his prayer was not the best example.

I think that opening up the Bible to modern translation exposes it to danger of biblical truth being snatched out of it just as the Babylonians grabbed the treasure of the temple, and it produces the possibility of great wickedness like Manasses. Is our desire for modernized translations instead of a sacred dialect more in line with Moses wanting to know God's presence and his ways or more for our own convenience like Hezekiah wanting to live longer? I am going to use the following illustration:

The cash register in the Greek's diner was an army-green NCR model that had been there when the Greek bought the place. The Greek would shove down the price keys, numbers would pop into a window for the customer to see, and the drawer would fly open--usually hitting the Greek in his ample stomach. The Greek didn't care. Every hit in the stomach was money in the bank, he liked to say.
    On the back of the cash register were two postcard-size signs. One of them was supposed to read "No Personal Checks," but someone had marked it up with a pen so that now it read "No Fat Chicks." The second sign had been defaced to read, "We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Louie." The Greek didn't care about that, either.
Walter Walker, Rules of the Knife Fight274

I hope the preacher doesn't mind if I compare him to the Greek. The preacher uses a modern English translation of the Bible whose words the congregation immediately relates to like numbers popping into a window for the customer to see. Rather than its common language rubbing him the wrong way, he treats it like money in the bank. And he doesn't seem to mind the places where the words were changed to give an entirely new sense.

"No Personal Checks" has a business sense just as Paul's "be not unequally yoked" was given in context of involvements in Christian ministry, but the NIV has improperly imported it back into an earlier epistle to tell us whom not to marry, "No Fat Chicks." And from Ecclesiastes, "He has put the world in their hearts" encompasses a large universe of distraction which the preacher's modern version narrows down to "eternity in their hearts," one aspect of it. In the movie "American Beauty," it is the son who sees beauty in every little thing but his father hasn't got a clue because his former marine training is so ingrained in his personality, "the world in his heart." The eternal faithfulness, semper fidelis, is but one aspect of marine training, just as the right to refuse service to Louie only touches one of the whole public to whom that applies, although an important one.

Matel Co. has broken up the Ken and Barbie doll set. There was a radio skit interviewing Barbie herself who said that she has to get on with her life, "stand up straight and stick my chest out." She said that 43 years is long enough to go with someone and still be unable to decide on a future. When asked what kind of a doll she was looking for, she replied, "One that is anatomically correct."

Today our dolls must be anatomically correct, our generic pronouns feminine--in whole or in part--, and our Bibles in ordinary day to day dialect. Treasures in Christ. Do the dolls we give our children need to be anatomically correct to be treasured? Aren't we distracted enough by thoughts of women without making every generic pronoun (all or part) feminine? And what do we gain by putting the sacred dialect (KJV) Bible on the shelf and distracting ourselves with Bibles in profane dialect? Doesn't that keep the world in our hearts?


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Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403

Contact: feedbackatbibles.n7nz.org

Copyright © 2004, Earl S. Gosnell III

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